Lessons from Starting up
What is startup incubation and why should you consider joining one? For first time company owners, starting a business appears simple enough. Register a company, open a bank account and start trading. Before I started my own business way back in 2010 I had always wanted to start my own company and I like many out there thought it was simple. When I did finally start one, it was an internet cafe, I soon discovered that it wasn’t easy. Everything that could go wrong in my view did just that and I soon discovered that I needed to develop some new skills to deal with all this. After opening my doors my electricity was cut off because the previous tenant had not been paying his bills. I had to fork out some money to get reconnected. I soon discovered that to operate a business you needed a business licence after i was fined for not having one 3 days in a row!
An internet cafe is hardly difficult to start, you simply get a few computers and a fast internet connection, a good location and one or two staff members and you are ready to go. When you open your doors people come in because they want to use the internet. You soon discover that they have other needs and if you are a good businessman you will respond by adding these services and that’s exactly how I grew the business extending it into printing, branding services and small business services.
Contrast all this to starting a startup. Years after starting the internet business I started a startup quite accidentally. I needed a solar geyser installed at my house after stumbling across the fact that solar geysers cut down your electricity bill by upto 30%. I found a plumber and he put up a geyser on my roof. The benefits were immediate and helped me to focus on a new path. I began to explore solar products more and started to identify reputable suppliers. By 2015 my first real startup was born. It was a solar company that meant to solve the problems I had encountered when looking for quotations and solar installation services. Back then there were just a handful of solar installation companies, today there are hundreds if not thousands and they are growing by the day. Still as i developed the solar startup i found that learning never stops. I made some mistakes but learnt from them. I also discovered that a founder must learn to do everything by themselves at first. It can help you achieve more cheaper. Had i not taught myself web development i would have had to pay someone to do it. You see the complication, with no money I would have struggled to prove my idea and turn it into the success it is today
The solar business taught me a lot about bootstrapping, which is starting with what you have and doing what you can to get traction in your startup. No investor is going to put money in a business that has no customers or supplier relationships. I began with no capital, providing quotations to family, friends, church mates and workmates and began carrying out installations of solar systems. Trying to get someone to put together a website when you don’t have money to pay them is difficult and so I taught myself to make my own website to educate people on the benefits of solar. Once the website was up I began to get leads from it as many as 20 per month and that’s how the solar business took off. Soon I discovered that customers were better serviced online and I built our online solar products store. The coding skills that i got years back came again to the rescue.
What has all this got to do with startup incubation. In 2018 having discovered that there was high unemployment in Zimbabwe, I decided that I needed to create a solution to help founders learn from my own experiences and avoid the common mistakes that are made by first time entrepreneurs. Relying on my bootstrapping skills again I put together an innovation hub with 32 seats that has just launched its first startup incubator in Zimbabwe.
We put out a call to startups in the Energy, Health, Logistics, Agriculture and Education sectors and 32 startups responded. These sectors are covid-19 beneficiaries and we see a lot opportunities to transform them through digitalisation. Out of the 32 our startup advisors picked 10 and these will go through our incubator program. The incubator program is practical and draws from my own experiences and helps startups connect with my vast network of contacts amassed over the years in the financial services sector.
During the 26 week long incubation startups will be taken through a journey of discovering their purpose and the problems they are solving and by the end of the period will have the right mindset and attitude to be able to pitch and attract funding into the startup venture. They will be operating from our innovation hub supported by something I wish I had but didn’t when I started, Mentors and Startup advisors.
In an incubation program startup founders work together in a cohort learning together and building their startup venture. The difference between other programs and ours is our starting point. Zimbabwean entrepreneurs have been left out of many startup programs and have missed a number of lessons along the way. This is why Zimbabwe is yet to enter the active startup stage with a bang. We are looking to produce our own gazelles and unicorns. What animal is your startup? Our incubation program will breed a new type of startup founder who has no fear and is focused on solving worldwide challenges as opposed to our own local challenges.
Startups in the program will get access to
Fast internet access
Amazon Web and business support credit
Access to Mentors
A library of tools to refer to and learn from
Web and app development skills
Lower operating costs
Professional services (marketing, accounting, legal services)
Through collaboration and being provided with the right lenses through which they will see the current challenges as opportunities we will help them build successful startup ventures.
Through innovation, applying emerging technologies we will help the founders solve challenges and improve the livelihoods of people across the African continent. I am excited by the companies that have made it to our first program. You can follow their stories here as we begin the journey.
If you would like to partner us in this mission to help startups grow do not hesitate to contact us. We continue to welcome new partners as we try and empower local startups.